Mass exodus from Ford today
Thanks to buyouts, thousands of workers call it quits
February 28, 2007
BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
This is it: The big good-bye. The finish line.
Ford Motor Co. had hoped to convince about 10,000 salaried workers to
leave as part of a voluntary buyout program that aims to revive the
automaker. Today is the last day for many of them.
Ford won't say exactly how many people have shredded their
confidential files, packed their cardboard boxes and signed the legal
forms so they could take a buyout and leave today. But Ford executives
have acknowledged they had a high take rate on their buyout offers, so
thousands and thousands of badges will likely be turned in on this
Many workers who turn them in, like 36-year Ford engineer Tim Cross,
say they are happy to go after decades of service to Ford. Others,
like Raymond Wright, a nearly 50-year Ford employee, feel they really
have no choice given the threat of layoffs, which will be necessary if
Ford doesn't hit its job-reduction targets.
Signs of the difficult, changing times can be seen around Dearborn and
inside 103-year-old Ford, which lost a record $12.7 billion last year.
"For Sale" placards continue sprouting up on lawns. Restaurants have
been inundated with Ford workers who are celebrating their departures
with lunches and dinners. Ford workers and suppliers report that
business has slowed down in several departments, in spite of
management's plans for the transition.
On Friday, at Bailey's, a popular sports bar in downtown Dearborn,
Cross slipped on a neon orange sash that declared "Retired" and a pin
that celebrated: "I made it!"
More than 50 of his colleagues, friends and family members gathered in
the basement to eat some fish and chips, watch a video collage of
Cross' life -- set to the tune "Lucky Man" -- and send him off into
retirement with some kind words and jokes.
"Who remembers the perm?" one Ford colleague asked the crowd over a
microphone, causing hands to shoot up and the room to erupt in
Cross, a Canton resident, was a popular engineer at Ford. He mentored
countless numbers of colleagues in the weight department about how to
make vehicles lighter, and he also ran the Ford softball league for
Cross enjoyed one of the rarer, individual good-bye celebrations, said
John Samson, an engineer at Ford for the past 17 years and a friend of
Cross. Many workers, he noted, were just having big group events. The
weight engineering department held a pizza party on Thursday for more
than 20 of the 47 workers who are leaving.
"It's a shame there couldn't have been more individual parties to
honor people the way they should be, but there's so many people
leaving," Samson said.
Ed Pelc, an engineer who will have 30 years of service at Ford in
July, added: "It's just a mass exit of people."
While Cross held his party in the basement of Bailey's during the
lunch hour last Friday, a table of 14 other Ford workers upstairs in
the bar simultaneously held a good-bye lunch for several of their
retiring Ford supervisors at the Rouge Complex.
In recent weeks, Bailey's has been hosting about eight to 14 good-bye
parties a day for Ford workers, said Patty Gabriel, the pub's event
coordinator. The events start about lunchtime and last through the
"It's crazy," Gabriel said, flipping through a printout of dates,
times and numbers of people attending various parties.
Patrick Barrow, who has worked as a Ford engineer for 17 years, can
attest to the difficulty managing all of the various departures.
"I have conflicting going-away parties," he said.
At Park Place banquet hall and catering service in Dearborn, big round
tables covered in linen and a skirted buffet lined with Sterno-ready
serving tubs await the next going-away event.
Gary Kuhlmann, owner of Park Place, said he's been hosting joint going-
away parties for eight, 10 and 20 people at a time. This year has been
a busy one, and he expects it will remain that way through March.
"We might have retired 150 to 300 people," Kuhlmann said. "It's
While the events are sad, he said there haven't been too many tears.
Most of the departing Ford workers have worked for the automaker for
three decades and are ready to go. Usually, coworkers and family
members give a few speeches, hand out a few plaques and gifts and
leave for the next chapter of their lives.
When it was finally his turn at the microphone at Bailey's, Cross
pulled off his eyeglasses to say a few words.
"Well, I've enjoyed my work at Ford Motor Co. But it's not the work
I'll miss," he said, starting to choke up. He lifted his hand to cover
his eyes as they welled up with tears. "It's the people."
Cross said he plans to spend his retirement fishing and hunting at his
vacation home in Mio and spending more time with his family, which
includes three grandchildren.
"Just remember," he said, "I'm just a phone call or e-mail away."
At many of the parties, Ford workers who plan to remain at the company
huddled to discuss the transition period that awaits.
After the buyouts are done, Ford must figure out how to work with less
and where people need to be reassigned. The company will also need to
evaluate how many workers it might need to lay off in certain
Rich Raines, who supervises the weight engineering department at Ford,
has worked at the automaker for 28 years and is not retiring. He said
it's a difficult time at Ford, and it will be challenging to manage
"I'm concerned about the number of talented people who are leaving,"
Contact SARAH A. WEBSTER at 313-222-5394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.